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Music Review: Rick Stone Trio – Fractals

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As the first release for Rick Stone in five years, Fractals feels like the culmination of half a decade teaching, learning and performing. The NYC-based guitarist has indeed been stacking up the experiences, performing regularly at the Garage Jazz Restaurant and other New York venues. He’s also been teaching jazz guitar at many universities and working with the Jazzmobile.

On record, those experiences educating and playing lead to some truly smooth and smart stuff. Stone’s guitar blends elegantly with Marco Panascia’s bass and Tom Pollard’s drums.

The trio is stripped-down and simple, providing a basic sound that really lets the melodies of the songs spring through. Stone’s approach to guitar isn’t flashy or showy; he leaves the tricks for others while he focuses on song construction and on grooving with the group. That’s not to say that Fractals or Stone’s work as a whole lacks invention, but the guitarist certainly has more of a passion for the whole than for individual glory.

Take the flare at the beginning of “Nacho Mama’s Blues” for instance. He jams out with angular lines worth cranking up the volume for, but the number quickly settles into a full-group jam that lets Pollard’s drums tap to the front along with Panascia’s bass. The three focus entirely on smoking through the groove.

On “Key Lime Pie,” the trio pushes through a cymbal-heavy samba dedicated to the late Emily Remler. It’s a sparkling piece of music, almost reaching exuberant heights in its praise and admiration for the Wes Montgomery-influenced Remler. Watch for a square of funky bass soloing to accent the piece nonchalantly.

There are a few standards on Fractals, too. The classic “Darn that Dream” is touched with a resonating reharmonization that is hard not to feel touched by. And the compelling Strayhorn rarity “Ballad for Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters” is a complex but remarkable number with gliding guitar and spacious splashes of percussion.

Fractals is a smart jazz album from smart jazz musicians. These three cats know how to slip into the quiet comforts of these great songs and their forbearance and control draws out the best in each sonic segment. Stone’s trio happily ensures a reverence for the music that is all too rare in today’s “look at me” music business.

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